Baltimore Ravens: Anquan Boldin

BALTIMORE -- In his first game at M&T Bank Stadium since winning the Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin was appreciative of the warm reception he received from fans.

Boldin
"I just want to say thank you for the time I spent here and the support they've given me," Boldin said after the preseason opener. "Even after I left, it's been nothing but love."

The Ravens traded Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick after the sides couldn't agree on a pay cut. The move came a little over a month after Boldin helped the Ravens to a Super Bowl title.

That sixth-round pick acquired from the 49ers was used in a deal that allowed the Ravens to jump up in the second round in 2013 and draft linebacker Arthur Brown, who has been a disappointment so far.

Asked if it was strange to play against the Ravens, Boldin said, "It's no big deal. I only played a couple of plays anyway."

The 49ers didn't throw a pass in Boldin's direction during his limited playing time.
During this week's Baltimore Ravens chat, we discussed the situations at wide receiver and fullback as well as which player deserves a contract extension. If you want the full transcript, you can click here. These are some highlights:

Alex (Sonora): If you had the chance today to trade Steve Smith for Anquan Boldin, would you?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Interesting question. It's close but I would go with Boldin. I feel he has more left, and you already know he has an established chemistry with Flacco.

Joe (Mobile): Which wide receivers make the 53-man roster?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Steve Smith, Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown, Jacoby Jones, Jeremy Butler.

Mike (Mobile): No love for Michael Campanaro?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): He will likely get redshirted and either be placed on IR or practice squad.

Mitchell (Rockville): I've read several articles on ESPN, claiming the Ravens didn't do enough this offseason to improve the offense around Joe Flacco. But with Dennis Pitta, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda now healthy, are we really that far from being a playoff-caliber team?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I would say the Ravens have a better chance at making a championship run with this year's team than last year's one.

Jay (Toronto): Can Kyle Juszczyk adequately replace Vonta Leach? Should they look to bring in another fullback? Perhaps Michael Robinson or Hard Knocks' own, "The Terminator" John Conner?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): Juszczyk will be the top fullback, but I wouldn't say he is replacing Leach. They're two different fullbacks. Juszczyk is more versatile and athletic. And the Ravens will only carry one fullback this year. Not sure any team other than the Ravens had two fullbacks on their roster last season.

Ryan (Boston):Who's more important to lock up long term, Haloti Ngata or Justin Tucker?

Jamison Hensley (ESPN): I would say Tucker because he has more upside, but Ngata can still be a game-changer. You just don't know how many years Ngata has left.
Just like last year, there was a Harbaugh on the sidelines reaping the benefits of having Anquan Boldin as a wide receiver in the playoffs. Except Boldin was making the clutch catches for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday and not the Ravens.

And the 49ers didn't let the Ravens forget about it.

Asked if Boldin was worth the sixth-round pick that San Francisco gave the Ravens, right guard Alex Boone told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I think he’s worth a first-round pick, and I think the Ravens are really kicking themselves right now.”

Boldin finished with eight catches for 136 yards receiving, playing a key role on back-to-back touchdown drives that shifted the momentum in the 49ers' 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers. This shouldn't come as a shock to the Ravens. During his time with the Ravens (three years of postseason play), he totaled the NFL's most playoff receiving yards (616) and most touchdown catches (six).

Here's the rest of your wake-up caw …
  • John Eisenberg, of the team's official website, gives his early thoughts on what the Ravens will do in the draft. "You can’t go wrong with either an offensive lineman or a wide receiver in the first round. Both are major needs," Eisenberg wrote. "One thought that might sway you: You can get impact receivers after the first round, but it’s hard to get starting-caliber tackles after the mid-first round. The Ravens are seldom drafting that high. If a highly-regarded tackle is there, you might not want to pass him up."
  • Wilbert Montgomery, who isn't returning to the Ravens as their running backs coach, told The Baltimore Sun that there's no hard feelings. "It was a good six years in Baltimore," Montgomery said. "It was a good run, but I understand why it's time for me to move on. I wish those guys well and hope they have a great season and wish them well. Things, they do run their course." The question that was left unasked was his role in Ray Rice being on the sideline for most of the first half in the regular-season finale.
  • Former Ravens running back Damien Berry denies putting his Super Bowl ring up for sale, telling The Baltimore Sun that the pending auction wasn't authorized by him. But the founder of Goldin Auctions said that he has a copy of a sales agreement with Berry that includes witnessed, notarized documents.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Last offseason, the Baltimore Ravens replaced Ray Lewis with Daryl Smith. They lost Paul Kruger and filled his spot with Elvis Dumervil.

And when it came to addressing the loss of wide receiver Anquan Boldin ….

Harbaugh
"We probably weren’t able to do that quite the same way with Anquan, unfortunately," coach John Harbaugh said at Tuesday's end-of-the-season press conference.

After being traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick, Boldin caught 85 passes for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns. The catches and receiving yards were more than he ever produced in a season in his three-year run with the Ravens.

Wide receiver Torrey Smith came within 74 yards of setting the Ravens' single-season receiving record, but the Ravens missed Boldin's impact in clutch situations. The Ravens finished 20th on third downs and ranked near the bottom of the NFL in the red zone.

"As a coach, you just can’t get caught up in that. You can’t look back," Harbaugh said. "I’m talking to the fans here. I’m watching guys that left here and watching them make plays for other teams. Of course, I’m thinking the same thing you’re thinking: ‘Man, it’d be great if he was making that play for our team.’ It’s human nature [that] you feel that way about it."

What really compounded the loss of Boldin was the hip injury to tight end Dennis Pitta, which sidelined him for the first 12 games. Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown has similar qualities to Boldin and caught seven touchdowns, but he didn't command the same presence or attention from defenses.

The Ravens traded Boldin in March because they wanted him to take a $2 million pay cut. Before the season, general manager Ozzie Newsome rationalized the loss of Boldin by saying the cap savings was used to add Elvis Dumervil and safety Michael Huff and helped bring in defensive end Chris Canty, defensive tackle Marcus Spears and linebacker Daryl Smith. By the end of the season, Huff and Spears were no longer on the team after being released midseason.

"With the cap restrictions, you take the money, they go from one person to another person that we added, and those guys were making plays for us," Harbaugh said. "We spent to the cap. It’s not like we didn’t spend the money. You’ve just got to do the best you can in this salary cap era of being the strongest team you can for the money that you’re allotted, and hopefully, it works out. That’s really the reality of it.”

How ex-Ravens are faring this season

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
10:30
AM ET
With the Baltimore Ravens on their bye, it's a good time to check out how the key members of last season's Super Bowl team are faring with their current teams. A special thanks to the ESPN.com team reporters who provided their assessment of the ex-Ravens. I then give my take on whether the Ravens miss these players.

ANQUAN BOLDIN

Boldin
A look at the numbers: Boldin was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick. The wide receiver ranks 19th in the NFL with 495 yards receiving. He has 34 catches and two touchdowns. Boldin made an immediate splash with 208 yards receiving in the season opener, but he's come back down in the next six games.

Bill Williamson, ESPN.com 49ers reporter: With Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out, Boldin is the 49ers’ only legitimate threat at receiver. He will be even more dangerous when Manningham and Crabtree return and he sees fewer double-teams.

Do the Ravens miss Boldin? Yes. Even though they miss tight end Dennis Pitta more, the Ravens could use Boldin on third down and in the red zone. Marlon Brown has stepped up, but Joe Flacco had a certain trust with Boldin.

DANNELL ELLERBE

Ellerbe
A look at the numbers: Ellerbe signed a five-year, $34.75 million contract with the Miami Dolphins that included $14 million guaranteed. The inside linebacker ranks third on the Dolphins with 40 tackles. Ellerbe has no sacks and no passes defensed, but he has recovered two fumbles. He's missed one game this season with a shoulder injury.

James Walker, ESPN.com Dolphins reporter: Ellerbe has been a mostly good addition for the Dolphins. He's taken to his new role as a leader and defensive playcaller, leading the Dolphins in tackles before his shoulder injury, but he has struggled at times against the pass.

Do the Ravens miss Ellerbe? Yes. But it's not like the Ravens had the salary-cap room to match the Dolphins overpaying for Ellerbe. He would be an upgrade over Josh Bynes as well as Jameel McClain, who is 10 months removed from a spinal-cord contusion.

PAUL KRUGER

Kruger
A look at the numbers: Kruger signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract with the Cleveland Browns that includes $20 million guaranteed. The outside linebacker has had more penalties (two) than sacks (1.5). His 19 quarterback hurries lead the Browns, and his eight missed tackles are tied for the most on the team.

Pat McManamon, ESPN.com Browns reporter: Kruger has been solid but not spectacular for the Browns. The main issue: His sack numbers are not what he or the team had hoped for. Through seven games, Kruger has 1.5 sacks, and he admits that's not enough. Especially for a guy paid as handsomely as he was in the offseason.

Do the Ravens miss Kruger? Not at all, especially after Elvis Dumervil fell into their laps. Dumervil has 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and seven quarterback hits.

BERNARD POLLARD

Pollard
A look at the numbers: Pollard signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Tennessee Titans after being cut by the Ravens. The strong safety leads the Titans with 47 tackles. He also has two interceptions and three passes defended, and has even blocked a kick.

Paul Kuharsky, ESPN.com Titans reporter: Pollard has been great for the Titans. He's been the sort of outspoken leader they needed, and he's backed it up with solid play. The Titans have schemed in a way that's kept him out of difficult coverage situations, and he's been good in pass defense.

Do the Ravens miss Pollard? Yes. James Ihedigbo has exceeded expectations, but Pollard brought a level of intimidation that the Ravens' defense misses. You have to wonder whether the Ravens' run defense would be better with Pollard and whether receivers would think twice going over the middle with him in the defensive backfield.

ED REED

Reed
A look at the numbers: Reed signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Houston Texans that included $6 million guaranteed. The free safety missed the first two games of the season with a hip injury, and he doesn't have an interception or a pass defended this season. He ranks 13th on the Texans with 14 tackles.

Tania Ganguli, ESPN.com Texans reporter: Reed has not yet made the kind of impact many expected from him. He wants to be tested more than he has been -- he's only been targeted three times by quarterbacks this season.

Do the Ravens miss Reed? For the short term? Probably. In the long term? Probably not. Quarterbacks likely wouldn't test the Ravens deep as much with Reed playing center field. But the Ravens will be better in the future with Matt Elam, a first-round pick who is learning on the job this season.

CARY WILLIAMS

Williams
A look at the numbers: Williams signed a three-year, $17 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles that includes $10.5 million guaranteed. The cornerback has two interceptions and five passes defended this season. He's allowed two touchdowns and has been flagged for four penalties.

Phil Sheridan, ESPN.com Eagles reporter: Williams got off to a bit of an odd start, missing some voluntary workouts for personal reasons (and famously saying he was picking out sconces for the home he was building), then fighting with Riley Cooper in practice. But he brings that same attitude to the field, which has helped give this rebuilding Eagles defense a personality. He hasn't been great on the field, but he's been good and getting better as the defense in front of him becomes more competent. Mostly, I'd say he's a guy who knows what it's like to be part of a winning, intimidating defense, and that's in short supply around here.

Do the Ravens miss Williams? Hard to say. Once again, this is a case where the Ravens couldn't have come close to matching the offer from the other team. Even if the Ravens had Williams, I'm not sure he starts. Lardarius Webb was going to reclaim his starting job, and Jimmy Smith was going to start because it was time to see if he was worth a first-round pick.
Trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers was the Baltimore Ravens' biggest mistake of the offseason. Was it the worst trade in NFL history?

Boldin
That's the assertion of ESPN's Rick Reilly:
Just to repeat: They wanted the guy who helped lead them to a world championship to take a $2 million pay cut! And what else? Sweep out the boxes afterward? And what did the Ravens do with all the money they saved on Boldin? They spent it on defense. That defense then went to Denver and gave up the most points in franchise history. It may be the worst trade in NFL history.

Here's the real bottom line: the Ravens were either going to trade Boldin or release him because he refused a pay cut. So, the fact that the Ravens got a sixth-round pick was a good trade for the Ravens in one respect. They would've got nothing for Boldin if they cut him. Baltimore used that sixth-round pick to move up in the second round to draft Arthur Brown, who is considered the future at inside linebacker.

Would I have traded Boldin? No way. I've repeatedly written that shipping Boldin was the one move that the Ravens would regret. But it's hardly the worst trade in NFL history, and I get the sense that Reilly is poking fun at the situation when ranking Boldin behind the acquisition of Alaska in terms of worst deals. When you're debating the worst trades in NFL history, it's hard to forget the Saints trading their entire draft for Ricky Williams or the Falcons trading Brett Favre for a first-round pick (which turned out to be the far-from-legendary running back Tony Smith).

In fact, this can't go down as the worst trade in Baltimore NFL history. In 1983, the Colts sent John Elway to the Broncos. About 10 months later, the Colts relocated to Indianapolis. When you put it in that context, it's hard for Baltimore football fans to wring their hands over losing Boldin.
The Baltimore Ravens aren't the only playoff team off to a slow start. With the Redskins losing Monday night, last season's division winners were 4-4 in Week 1. Here's your Wake-up caw ...
  • In his first comments about his new contract, John Harbaugh called it an honor to coach the Ravens. “I’m just very excited about it and ready to move on and prove that decision was the right one,” Harbaugh said, via the team's official website. His last new contract, which came in February 2011, averaged $4 million per season and put him on the fringe of the top-10 highest paid coaches. This latest one reportedly will pay him nearly $7 million per year. Only three coaches make more than $7 million: the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, Saints’ Sean Payton and Chiefs’ Andy Reid.
  • Defensive lineman Arthur Jones received positive news about his illness, which The Baltimore Sun described as a virus near his heart. But coach John Harbaugh doesn't know if Jones will be available for Sunday's game. "Good news, it seems to have cleared up," Harbaugh said. "He should be good, and we'll just have to see how ready he is to play this week. That will obviously be the issue football-wise. I can't make a prediction on that right now."
  • The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes Anquan Boldin is a better fit for the 49ers. "Because of Colin Kaepernick's running ability, most teams play zone against him and that helps Boldin," Preston wrote. "He is able to find the holes and creases in zones as he did Sunday against the Packers. Here in Baltimore with Joe Flacco as quarterback, the Ravens would probably see more man-to-man defense because Flacco isn't a scrambler. When most teams pressed up on Boldin last season, especially big cornerbacks, he couldn't get separation."
  • Cornerback Corey Graham said the Ravens lost sleep over their season-opening performance, but not their confidence. “We have to play better," Graham said, via Comcast SportsNet. "We know what we’ve got to do, and that was unacceptable. When you lose guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, obviously it’s big, but I feel like we definitely have the guys to get it done. We’ve just got to get on the same page, find a way to go out there and win games.” Graham, in particular, had a brutal game. According to Pro Football Focus, Graham graded out as the third-worst corner in Week 1 (only Darius Slay and Cortland Finnegan were worse).
  • Harbaugh indicated wide receiver Jacoby Jones and offensive tackle Michael Oher are "day-to-day, week-to-week." Jones' knee injury is reportedly more of a concern than Oher's ankle injury. Jones is expected to miss four to six weeks. “We’ll see how that goes with Jacoby,” Harbaugh said, via the team's website. “He has a sprain. It’s not a serious-type thing. But we’ll just have to see how that goes."
The 13-catch, 208-yard performance by wide receiver Anquan Boldin has caused many reporters and fans to second-guess the Baltimore Ravens' decision to trade him to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick.

Boldin
Boldin
"I haven't heard any of it, probably by design," coach John Harbaugh said before cracking a smile. "My wife did mention it to me -- a couple of times."

As I wrote earlier, the struggles of the Ravens' passing attack in the season opener were underscored by Boldin's dominating performance. While this looks like a bad decision by the Ravens, Harbaugh said there are no hard feelings with Boldin.

"He's a great player. There's nobody here that didn't want Anquan back," Harbaugh said Monday. "He plays for another team now. I have a rooting interest in that team, I guess. So I happened to watch the game. I've got a rooting interest in Anquan, too. We all do."

In March, the Ravens asked Boldin to take a $2 million pay cut even though he played an integral part in the team's Super Bowl win a month earlier. When Boldin refused, Baltimore traded him to the 49ers to create $6 million in salary-cap room, which was used to sign three starters on defense (linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive lineman Chris Canty).

The Ravens also packaged that sixth-round pick with two others to move up in the second round this year to draft linebacker Arthur Brown.

"It was a business decision both ways," Harbaugh said. "It was definitely disappointing that it ended the way it did. We're happy for his success, and I'm looking forward to our success as well."

While I don't plan to run a weekly scorecard on this, here's your Week 1 results ...

Anquan Boldin: 13 catches, 208 yards and one touchdown.

Ravens wide receivers: 15 catches for 215 yards and one touchdown.

Winner: Boldin.

It's easy after one game to pile on the Baltimore Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome for trading Boldin, but I believed the defending Super Bowl champions would regret the move back in March. Boldin's monster game just magnifies the rare misstep by the Ravens' front office and the deficiencies of Baltimore's passing attack. The season-opening loss in Denver showed the Ravens need someone who can make clutch catches, whether it's at the goal line or on third down. The receiver the Ravens needed was Boldin.

Instead, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh couldn't help gushing about the offseason gift from his brother John.

“It feels great to have him,” Jim Harbaugh said after the 49ers' win against the Packers. “We did give up a draft choice for him and [we're] paying him a lot of money, but definitely think he’s worth every penny. I think he’s worth every penny.”

To be fair, the Ravens shipped Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round pick when they had tight end Dennis Pitta ready to become Joe Flacco's next security blanket. The Ravens didn't want to restructure a veteran's contract (like Terrell Suggs or Haloti Ngata) to keep Boldin, and this organization has made a living on parting ways with older players just before they decline (see Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Kelly Gregg, to name a few).

In the Ravens' minds, the $6 million in salary cap space created by trading Boldin allowed the Ravens to add three defensive starters in March -- outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive lineman Chris Canty -- who accounted for $5.35 million in cap space this year. But, as one team official in the AFC has repeatedly told me, you can always find a way to make cap room for a player if you really want him. It just costs you down the line.

My contention six months ago and now is the Ravens didn't have a suitable backup plan at wide receiver when they got rid of Boldin. I didn't see Jacoby Jones consistently moving the chains. I didn't see Tandon Doss making that tough catch in the red zone. It took a while, but Flacco had finally built a trust with Boldin that was apparent in last season's championship run.

Ravens fans will keep an eye on Boldin's numbers throughout the season, and it obviously won't be like this every week. Boldin caught five passes of least 15 yards downfield Sunday, his most in a game in five seasons. He had one of those top-five career games. But, as those who follow the Ravens know, it's not about gaudy receiving numbers for Boldin. It's about when he makes those catches.

In his 49ers' debut, Boldin caught all four passes thrown his way on third down and converted all four. He also had two receptions in the red zone and one on fourth down in the fourth quarter, which sealed the game. The 49ers know all about Boldin's timely catches after witnessing the key third-and-short reception in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.

Boldin isn't going to finish in the top five in receiving yards or catches like Calvin Johnson. But he's going to do all the things that helps a team win. That's why Boldin is such a big loss to the Ravens.
In ESPN.com's NFL preview, the Baltimore Ravens were the consensus pick to finish second in the AFC North. I was one of two prognosticators (Ashley Fox was the other) who has the Ravens winning the division for a third straight season, but I was obviously outnumbered on this point. The Cincinnati Bengals are the favorite to win the division. As I put it, The defense is faster and more athletic, and the offense can score points with Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Torrey Smith. The demise of the defending Super Bowl champions has been greatly exaggerated.

Here is the Intelligence Report that I wrote on the Ravens:

1. Backing up the contract: Most quarterbacks don't have anything to prove after winning a Super Bowl and earning the game's MVP honors. But there's still a chip on Joe Flacco's shoulder, or more specifically, a $120.6 million contract on it. He has to put up more than pedestrian numbers to back up being one of the highest-paid players in the game. In five NFL seasons, Flacco has never thrown for 4,000 yards or more than 25 touchdowns in a season. The Ravens' belief is, with Jim Caldwell remaining the playcaller, Flacco will carry over his spectacular postseason -- 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions -- into the 2013 regular season.

2. Replacing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed: No one is ever going to replace Lewis and Reed as far as what these future Hall of Fame players have meant to the franchise, and the Ravens aren't trying to do that. Baltimore, though, thinks it can replace two great players who were at the end of their careers. Daryl Smith, the all-time leading tackler in Jaguars history and the Ravens' new middle linebacker, has been Baltimore's best defensive player this preseason. Safety Michael Huff is more versatile than Reed and provides more of a physical presence. Plus, Smith and Huff will combine to make $1.7 million this season, which is $13 million less than what the Ravens paid Lewis and Reed last season. The biggest challenge is filling the leadership void.

3. Offensive identity: Are the Ravens going to pass more because of the big-money contract given to Flacco? Or are they going to be a run-first team after the losses of wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta? The Ravens' identity is going to be a little of both. A balanced attack isn't a haphazard guess. This is based on what the Ravens did in the playoffs with Caldwell running the show. In the postseason, Flacco dropped back to throw 132 times and the running backs received 128 carries. The two most proven playmakers are Flacco and Ray Rice, and it would be unproductive to take the ball out of either one of their hands for an extended period.

4. Dynamic defensive duo: Over the past six seasons, Terrell Suggs has had one only teammate record more than seven sacks in a season. That's why no one is more excited than the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year over the Ravens landing an elite pass-rusher like Elvis Dumervil in free agency. Since Dumervil entered the league in 2006, his 63.5 sacks are tied for seventh most in the NFL. This addition certainly got the attention of Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton and Brandon Weeden.

5. Receivers need to step up: The Ravens lost more than their top two receivers when Boldin was traded and Pitta went down with a dislocated hip. They also lost their most-clutch receivers. Over the past two seasons, Boldin and Pitta combined for 17 touchdowns in the red zone. Last year, Boldin and Pitta led the team in third-down catches. The pressure to convert inside the 20-yard line and move the chains falls on wide receiver Torrey Smith, tight end Ed Dickson and two recent veteran additions in Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark.

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